Education Opinion

These People are Going to Shape Education for the Next Generation

By Sara Mead — May 01, 2012 5 min read
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Last year, I published a list of 16 young men and women who are going to lead the transformation of education in this country in the coming generation. But the challenges--and opportunities--facing public education in the next few decades are so big, they’re going to require more talent and expertise than even those exceptional 16 folks can offer. So, this year I’m back with a list of 17 more leaders who are going to help define the shape of public education for the coming generation:

  • Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj, Assistant Professor, Seton Hall University
  • Catharine Bellinger and Alexis Morin, Students for Education Reform
  • Matthew Chingos, Fellow, Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings Institution
  • Genevieve DeBose, Teaching Ambassador Fellow, U.S. Department of Education
  • Nick Ehrmann, CEO and Founder, Blue Engine
  • Cory Koedel, Assistant Professor, University of Missouri
  • Thaly Germain, Director, Lynch Leadership Academy
  • Toni Maraviglia, Founder, MPrep
  • Ben Marcovitz, Founder and Principal, Sci Academy and CEO, Collegiate Academies
  • Ben Miller, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development
  • Ama Nyamekye, Executive Director, Educators for Excellence Los Angeles
  • Sophia Pappas, Executive Director, Office of Early Childhood Education, New York City Department of Education
  • Terence Patterson, Education Program Officer, the Hyde Foundation
  • Teddy Rice, President and Co-Founder, Ellevation
  • Reid Saaris, Founder and Executive Director, Equal Opportunity Schools
  • Daniel Yoo, Founder, Goalbook

As with last year, I built this list by asking for recommendations from people I respect in the education field, including my Bellwether education colleagues, leaders of education reform and policy organizations, writers and analysts, and, most importantly, last year’s list of Next Generation Leaders. I’m also particularly excited that this list includes a former intern of mine, Catharine Bellinger, and a former New America Foundation colleague, Ben Miller--both of whom I’d still think are awesome even if I hadn’t had the chance to work with them closely, although that experience certainly helped me appreciate just how phenomenal they both are. The criteria for this year’s list are roughly the same as last year: These are folks who are doing important work in education now and are likely to have a significant impact on education policy or practice in the next 10 years. But this year I increased the age cut-off by a year, because I got some terrific nominees last year who fell just over the threshold and wanted to be able to include them this year (and because, let’s face it, we’re all getting older).

A few broad themes emerge from this year’s list. As I noted last year, the individuals who constitute this new generation of education leadership came of age at a time when many of the ideas their predecessors fought for--the ability of schools to impact children’s lives and achievement, the value of choice and diverse provision, and the ability of organizations outside traditional districts and schools to make a valuable contribution to improving student outcomes--had already migrated from the margins to the mainstream of public discourse in education. As a result, they haven’t felt the need to litigate these issues in the same way their predecessors did, and are also more willing to question assumptions on either side of the ideological divide in our contemporary education debates, and to recognize previously under-addressed nuances and complexities.

Related to this, many of these leaders are focusing on new challenges and opportunities--or new angles on existing ones--that reflect the evolution of the education reform movement. Education reform and entrepreneurship in the 1990s and 2000s tended to focus on “closing the achievement gap” in student test scores for low-income and minority students. That’s still a major focus for Next Generation leaders, but many of these leaders are realizing that it’s far from enough, and are pursuing on next steps to raise the bar or extend the quest for educational equity to encompass additional groups of previously overlooked students. Education entrepreneurs like Blue Engine founder Nick Ehrmann and Equal Opportunity Schools founder Reid Saaris, for example, have raised their sights from improving achievement on state tests to ensuring that low-income and at-risk students graduate high school truly “college and career-ready,” and emphasis that reflects a broader shift currently underway across the education reform movement. At the same time, people like Ellevation co-founder Teddy Rice and Goalbook founder Daniel Yoo are extending their focus beyond “gap closing” writ large to help realize the potential of populations of students--English language learners and students with disabilities--who have historically been particularly ill-served by our public education system, but are largely ignored or marginalized in reform conversations focused on “gap closing.”

But even as Next Generation leaders appear more free from some of the ideological debates that preoccupied their predecessors, they also seem particularly attuned to the reality that creating sustained improvement in our nation’s public schools will require building a broader base of support that brings new voices to the table. That’s why leaders like Ama Nyamekye and Genevieve DeBose are working to bring teacher voice to education policy debates, and Catharine Bellinger and Alexis Morin are engaging student voices. These Next Generation leaders also recognize that maximizing the potential of all our citizens will require reforms beyond the K-12 public school system, and are working to improve early childhood education (Sophia Pappas) and address issues in higher education (Ben Miller, Matthew Chingos, and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj).

Finally, the impact and vision of these Next Generation Leaders extends beyond the United States, with leaders like Toni Maraviglia working to use technology to expand access to quality learning opportunities in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Over the next three weeks, I’ll be profiling each of these leaders in greater detail. I’ve greatly enjoyed getting to know these 17 folks over the past month or so. I’m perpetually impressed by their insights, dedication, vision, and accomplishments--and I know you will be, too.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.